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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Andrea Atkins, 20, carries a bag of food picked out at the Sally's Store. Recipients are no longer required to first sit through a church service.

OGDEN — When Lts. Peter and Jan Pemberton took over the ministry at the Salvation Army earlier this year, they were disturbed by what they saw.

The down-on-their-luck folks, the homeless or the low-income with large families were standing in long lines, hours in advance of getting bread and other food — and that was only after they sat through an hourlong worship service.

"This is not really how Christ did it," Peter Pemberton said. "We do not want to force religion on people. We want our actions, our tender loving care, to be our testimony."

With the facility's rehabilitation center shutting down due to financial constraints, Peter Pemberton said he wanted to make good use of the new, old space and add more dignity to the lives of those who receive services.

"To me it was a broken system," he said. "I try to put myself in their position and to me, a bread line is derogatory. Like they are cattle. If you look at a lot of these people, their lives are hard enough as it is. There has to be a less stressful way of receiving the necessities of life."

So, a little more than three weeks ago, the Pembertons — assisted by a cavalry of volunteers — turned the rehab center into "Sally's Store," where patrons can "shop" for bread, pastries, fresh produce or meat.

"I want this to be their market, their local, hometown market," he said. "I don't want them to feel less than dignified."

Gone is the requirement that recipients sit through church service.

Gone also — at least in theory — are the long lines, although people on this chilly Tuesday afternoon were still jostling for a spot near the door for fear the food would run out.

"I am really bewildered," he said. "We set it up so they have this 3½-hour window so they are not as stressed, but I think they believe we are going to run out of food."

Jan Pemberton was shaking her head.

"We won't run out."

The Salvation Army, she explains, relies on an active network of support from area merchants, service groups and the Utah Food Bank.

"We rely on the community and the community relies on us," she said. "It is a partnership."

The shelves are restocked daily. That has come in handy, as the Pembertons have seen a definite uptick in the number of recipients showing up since attending worship service was nixed.

"The math is crazy here," he said. "On a daily basis we could see 80 to 100 people. Now that we have this market, we can serve 160 a day. Where they used to come every day to stand in line, a person now comes twice a week but they get more food each time."

J.C. Kressin, who had picked out a sack full of food, said he liked the new approach.

"I am all religions," he said. "As long as you believe in God, that is all that should matter. You shouldn't have to sit through a church service to prove it."

He tapped on his chest. "It's what is in here that counts, if you open your heart to God. I have, and he's got me through a lot of tough times."

Peter Pemberton said that is what he likes to see.

Although command of the Ogden Salvation Army is the first "officer" assignment in ministry for the couple, it's been part of their life and conviction for some time.

"What I have come to believe is what is most effective is the ministry of presence, the ministry of being there for people," he said. "Oftentimes we do more for the kingdom of God by keeping our mouth shut and letting our actions exemplify that of Christ."

Food donations are welcome at the Salvation Army at 2615 Grant Ave., Ogden. For more information, call 801-621-3580.

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com